Friday, January 07, 2005

Lacy Street Hospitality Services v. City of Los Angeles (Cal. App. - December 30, 2004)

We don't ask for much from our public servants, and courts generally ask even less. But this seems an eminently sensible opinion holding them to at least a tiny standard of care.

Lacy Street Hospitality Services wanted to modify some of its land use restrictions, and the Los Angeles Zoning Administrator recommended that the city grant its application. But neighbors were opposed, and the matter eventually reached the city council.

When Lacy starts presenting its request at this hearing (which was videotaped), the majority of the council members were either absent, out of their seats, or obviously paying no attention to the hearing. Several were having private conversations with each other. Some were eating or viewing unrelated paperwork. One was even chatting on his cell phone.

It gets so bad that, three minutes into the presentation, Lacy's representative says "it doesn't appear that too many people are paying attention." Which doesn't help any; the council continues not paying any attention, the member who was chatting on his cell phone makes another call, and another member walks clear across the council chamber to have some more private conversations. At the end of the hearing, adding injury to insult, the council denies Lacy's request.

Justice Rubin clearly gets it right, in my view, by granting Lacy's administrative writ of mandate and remanding the matter back for another hearing. Not that the council is likely to make a different decision, mind you. But Lacy is surely entitled to make its case before a decisonmaker who is at least marginally paying attention.

Indeed, my only objection is that the Court of Appeal made the parties bear their own costs. Lacy wasted all this time at the hearing and then is forced to spend all this money on an appeal it should never have had to file but for the council's incompetence. Throw 'em a bone, Larry. Give Lacy its couple of hundred bucks in costs.

P.S. - Not that it matters much to the holding, but Lacy Street is a strip club whose request, inter alia, was that it be allowed to push back its opening hours to 11:00 a.m., "[c]laiming it needed longer operating hours in order to make a profit." I admit that I don't know much about the industry, but is the "I-am-desperate-to-see-a-naked-woman-before-lunchtime" crowd really the make-or-break clientele here?